Posted by tobymuresianu on May 21, 2015 in Politics
LA’s new $15 minimum wage is a really big deal and it will be fascinating to see the results.
Giving more cash to more people could make their lives better and potentially spur economic growth (since lower wage workers spend more of their money locally, having less opportunity to do fancy things like “save”)
LA has mostly service industry jobs that can’t be easily moved to other cities (we only really produce American Apparel and life coaches)
On the other hand…it could push housing prices up even further, as people move here for work and have more $ to spend (if you want to give a progressive pause, tell them their rent will go up)
It could disproportionately cause small businesses to close or cut hours/positions.
It could push some businesses from LA to the suburbs.
And it could spur the creation of many of the unpaid internships we all love, increasing the hurdle to get into the paid labor force in the entertainment industry (which until now had been super easy).
Most likely it will have all of these results, and unforeseen ones, to some extent. The questions is more what proportions they’ll occur in.
It’s a complex problem and even economists who support the increase can’t predict what’s going to happen.
At first I wasn’t gonna post anything because I didn’t have a particular solution…but it’s reassuring to know that nobody does.
And it strikes me that one problem with getting your news from Facebook (where I also posted this – add me!) is the stuff that blows up in your news feed is the stuff that’s easy to have an opinion on, not necessarily the stuff that’s most important.
And maybe that’s why we feel so polarized, because it’s the strong opinions that get shared (and shared again). But “I don’t know” is a totally valid opinion and in many cases the most truthful and accurate one.
What I’m saying is that I have nothing to say, but it’s for the best.
But hopefully the increase is successful and I look forward to, if nothing else, seeing the results of the grand experiment.
Posted by tobymuresianu on May 14, 2015 in Politics
Last week as I watched the results of the UK election reverberate through my news feed, many of my friends posted how they couldn’t imagine why someone could ever vote conservative, or ridiculed or said they were hiding those who did.
There’s recently been a lot of talk of “news bubbles” – where people on Facebook get news only from people whose viewpoints reaffirm their own.
While it’s tempting to think of polarization as an internet phenomenon, it shares the characteristics of a well documented psychological basis: Groupthink.
Groupthink is a phenomenon where people in a group “reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints, by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”
The 8 key symptoms are:
Stereotyped views of out-groups – often as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, impotent, or stupid.
Pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
Self-censorship, where deviations from the perceived consensus are left unsaid.
Self-appointed members who protect the group from information that could hurt consensus.
An illusion of unanimity, where silence is assumed to mean agreement.
An illusion of invulnerability that encourages high-risk solutions to problems.
Collective rationalization of warnings.
Belief in the inherent morality of their group, and that as a “wise and good group,” “any means we decide to use must be good.”
I know, I never see it online either.
It does remind me a little of computer camp, where kids favorite pastime was talking about how much cooler they were than the “rival” computer camp, and I didn’t know how to say that we were all the same, completely uncool, kids. But I digress.
A topic being controversial makes it more important to reach better conclusions, not less; and alternative perspectives are an important part of that. At the very least, it may help demystify the disconnect between your news feed and an election result.
If you want to understand why people might believe differently than you, it’s just not enough to construct a strawman or point to some internet rando’s ill-advised tweet and present them as being representative of the other side.
Once in awhile I’ll post something that I know most of my friends disagree with. I don’t post more of them because for one, I agree with my friends on a majority of issues, and for two, because I honestly hate doing it. I hate thinking I’ll offend someone or lose a friend and never know it. I hate worrying that I’ll be wrong or I’m crazy for not seeing something the same way my friends seem to. It is easier not to take the risk.
But in truth everyone is wrong about a lot of things – I certainly am. And people who are overconfident in their own abilities may be the most likely to be, if they ignore contrary evidence as a result.
I think discussing politics is important and the best way is not to have a dialogue driven by fear or believing the worst in people. It is to listen to all kinds of opinions, and when you have them, be willing to express them politely. Someone disagreeing with you should be a cue to look into their argument, not to look for ways to dismiss it.
And I’ve generally found that when I do post something controversial
that most of my facebook friends, even those who disagree, are pretty smart and understanding (aside from the occasional person I did an open mic with five years ago who feels the need to post 10 misspelled, all-caps replies in five minutes). The perception of conflict, since we see so much of it online, is sometimes worse than the reality – so it is important not to let that stifle discussion. So I’m going to try to speak up more, and I hope others feel empowered too, so that the dialogue moves in a direction where people talk in good faith instead of bad.
But again, I could be wrong about all this. The best approach could be to loudly and publicly dismiss and belittle all who disagree with you. So if this approach doesn’t work, I fully reserve the right to try that next.
(links: About.com Psychology, Wikipedia: Groupthink, Psychologists for social responsibility)
Posted by tobymuresianu on Nov 8, 2014 in Announcements
I’ve started a new news-based web series with my friend, London-based comedian Ola Gbaja-Biamila.
We’ve done eight episodes so far, so I am confident that it will not die out immediately! And I’ve been happy with the results, too, though I’m a little biased.
Here’s the latest episode:
And one of my favorite clips, an investigative report I did on the #GamerGate scandal.
Enjoy, and subscribe on YouTube to get the latest updates!
Posted by tobymuresianu on Apr 8, 2014 in Politics
Housing prices in San Francisco are insane, and it’s become a large problem. Yet the root cause is that San Francisco is great, and one of the side effects is that people want to move there. As problems for cities go, this is a good one to have.
Where it gets hairy, though, is that while 75,000 people have moved in in the last 10 years, only 17,000 new housing units have been built in the same time. Supply and demand being a phenomenon not unique to San Francisco, the result has been skyrocketing rents, and longtime residents (longtime in San Francisco meaning more than 3 years) getting displaced.
To put it in perspective; when I lived in the city as a semi-professional comedian and app developer (or if you prefer to say it, marginally employed person) in 2009, I paid $800/month for a room at 17th and Dolores that, based on craigslist, now fetches closer to $2000. I won’t tell you how many casino lounges you have to perform in to make that, but it’s a lot.
But I’m a bad financial example (sorry, Mom and Dad). My friend has a decently paying tech job that she’s been at for a few years. She was told that the rent in her shared single-family home in a non-central neighborhood would go from $3500 to $5600. With apartments on craigslist getting hundreds of replies, costing thousands, or charging $250 to live an hour away and sleep with the landlord, she may have to move to a different city. This would be a loss for her and the San Francisco (not to mention the landlord). Not only has she built a life here while being financially responsible, she also runs popular comedy shows and volunteers. Her roommates are similarly financially stable and do things that help make San Francisco an interesting and attractive place to live, but are now struggling to live there themselves. It would be a shame if San Francisco stopped being a diverse and vibrant place, but instead a San Francsico-style theme park where you can kind of experience what the culture was like while paying $6 for a (fair-trade) soda.
Everyone agrees action is needed. What’s been disappointing to me, though, that most of the ire I’ve seen has been focused on the most recent arrivals in the city – tech workers who are able to afford the increased rent.
They are an easy target (we’re dorks), but it’s an unfortunate approach for a number of reasons. One, because it ignores the root of the problem – an artificially constrained housing supply. Two, it at times takes the tone of a simple anti-immigration platform that undermines the tolerance that San Francisco supposedly embodies. And three, if it by some miracle stopgap measures succeed in curbing the growth of the city, it will be at the expense of an opportunity for San Francisco to become a greater than it already is.
First, why is housing construction artificially restrained? For starters, it often takes 10 years for new housing to be approved in San Francisco, and it can be arbitrarily altered by a diverse rainbow of public hearings and planning commissions, with the result being housing policy “based not so much on our city’s dire housing needs but on who can turn out the most people at a public hearing”. In addition to this slowing the supply to a trickle, it also increases the expenses developers take on to build new buildings, which will inevitably result in higher prices when/if the buildings are actually built. The situation is exacerbated by an elevated rate of vacant housing stock whether due to regulations or other reasons but a lack of physical supply is still the greatest long-term cause.
New construction is always something that people moan and clamor about and then forget about after they are actually built. In fact, these housing restrictions have been in place since the 1980s and originated with resistance to skyscrapers that now make up downtown on the grounds they’d spoil the view, though these are now completely accepted if not iconic parts of the skyline.
The good news here is that because the situation with housing permits is so subject to public opinion, if San Francisco activists were advocating for increased construction, they would be able to change things for the better. Unfortunately, they haven’t been. I think this is for two reasons – a deeply intellectual assumption that rich people must be the source of all problems, and because new transplants to the city are simply an easier target than the parts of their own community who are resisting the necessary changes.
So instead activists have focused energy on undermining the Google Bus on dubious environmental grounds (because obviously mass transit is terrible for the environment) and harassing its founder by ripping off Fight Club in order to try and make the city less hospitable for tech workers. Being anti-immigration is the last sentiment you’d expect from San Franciscians. Yet stereotyping the tech community, lamenting how they are taking over neighborhoods and how the “real” San Francisco is getting lost are all sentiments that seem at home in any anti-immigration campaign.
Ignored is are the facts that we as citizens have the freedom to move wherever we want and the basic hypocrisy that all San Francisco residents immigrated at some point, often over economically-rooted anti-immigrant sentiment. Also, this protectionism diminishes the very real contributions of the tech community to San Francisco – where it has lead to world-class technologies, and where many are interesting members of society who also bring money into the city that helps fund social programs and small businesses. Most cities bend over backwards to attract well-paying jobs and citizens who hold them for the money they bring into the community and public coffers. It’s surprising how many San Franciscans best case take them for granted and worst case treat them with suspicion.
Finally, resisting construction robs San Francisco of an opportunity to become greater than it is. San Francisco is a case study for why liberal capitalism can work. You have educated people who move to a city, create successful businesses, and are willing to pay high taxes and create a good social support network. Despite right-wing talk nationally of cutting taxes and social programs to boost the economy, SF has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. If it was allowed to grow, with fair and standardized requirements for mixed income or eco-friendly construction, it could be even more of an example for other cities to emulate. And if you think San Francisco is a great city – as I do – isn’t it selfish to keep it for yourself, rather than wanting other people to move there and enjoy it, simply because you moved there first?
Further, while the specter of inequality features prominently in much writing about the housing situation, a construction boom would bring with it lots of construction jobs that would benefit the working class and the businesses they support. If the goal is honestly to help the working class, and not just try to appropriate them as moral justification, a curb in construction that pushes rent prices higher for cosmetic purposes does much more harm than good. I know it’s shocking to think that people who dress up in lycra circus suits to block the Google Bus might not actually be that connected to the working class, but I have my suspicions.
It is not manifest destiny for San Francisco activists to complain about inequality and then when the city becomes increasingly gentrified anyway blame the powerful while ignoring the fact they could have prevented it. The truth is that construction is beneficial and vilification of tech workers isn’t. It’s my hope that sooner rather than later consensus becomes that allowing the city to grow is the best solution to the housing crunch, and that not only is gentrification reduced because of it, but hostility and inequality are as well.
And you know what? People can still make fun of tech workers. As people who grew up on math team, we’re used to it.
Posted by tobymuresianu on Feb 26, 2014 in Stories
In 2011 I performed at a club in Johannesburg for two weeks.
I was drinking with the staff after a show when Celine, a waitresses from Zimbabwe, asked if I wanted to go to a different bar. I wanted to see more of the city, so I agreed.
I thought a few of the staff were coming, but it was just the two of us. We squeezed into a minibus and I started to get a little nervous because I assumed it’d be close, but we were in the van for ~40 minutes and I had a flight the next morning.
A little past midnight we got off in Hillbrow, which Wikipedia notes is the subject of a BBC documentary on “the state of complete abandon and lawlessness in some parts of [Johannesburg]“. Celine told me “I want to show you how black people live,” which was something I was totally open to but probably would have picked a different time for.
She took me to her apartment to drop off my things. We went through a floor-to-ceiling metal turnstile and down crumbling hallways to a tiny studio apartment. There were insects crawling all over the walls and 5-6 people living in it, as well as a Playstation 3 and Ikea furniture.
I guess that’s globalization, but it’s still a little surprising to see a cockroach, a crucifix on the wall, and then the dresser you had sophomore year.
I introduced myself to the other folks – mostly in their 20s plus a child or two, all very nice – then dropped off my stuff and we left for the nightclub. As I put down my phone I noticed a text from the comedy club manager who heard where I was going and told me to be “extremely careful”. Celine said that as long as I stayed with her I’d be safe. She was about 5’3″ but seemed pretty confident.
The club entrance was through another floor-to-ceiling turnstile set into what looked like an abandoned department store. People were crowding to be let in, but we skipped the line – I think Celine convinced them I was a celebrity based on being the only white person for miles and wearing the only slim-fit purple H&M shirt for miles after that.
Once we got in it was less full. The first floor looked like the hospital the guy wakes up in in 28 days later, so we went downstairs to a bare, open space with thumping music and maybe 150-200 people clustered around the front of the dance floor.
As I waded through the crowd, to say I stood out would be an understatement – heads turned, drunks reached out and touched my face, and I slapped away hands going through my pockets. We finally got to the VIP area, which was really the DJ booth fenced off with a welded screen door.
Inside I met the DJ (from the Philippines) and had a beer while hanging out with the waitress, producer and one or two other girls. They asked me to dance and insisted I’d be good over my protests that I wasn’t. As soon as I started, though, they stopped and stared at me in confusion and began trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, which was amazing before that moment I didn’t think it would be possible to feel more conscious of my whiteness.
I was in the middle of failing my third dance lesson when we heard a bottle smash, then another, and yelling. A few fights had broken out, but most people just carried on dancing like nothing had happened. I checked my watch; it was 3am. I told her I had to go to catch my flight.
We went back to her building to get my stuff, two very large, rough-looking guys confronted us. Celine argued with them heatedly for several minutes. I stood there, nervous but numb, feeling like I was flipping to the appropriate page in a Choose Your Own Adventure novel with no idea what my fate would be. After a few minutes she motioned me to come with her through the turnstile. As we walked through she rolled her eyes, sighing “Pff, those guys, they just want to rob *everybody*”.
I grabbed my stuff from the apartment, and we got into a cab, where she negotiated a fare of about a third of the price of any cab I’d taken in South Africa to that point. Two hours later I was asleep on a plane.
Posted by tobymuresianu on Feb 19, 2014 in Stories
A few kind people on facebook said they liked my cab stories and wanted more. I don’t have any more, but as the next best thing here’s an embarrassing story from high school, which remedies the situation of my previous ones making me seem like the good guy.
The first real high school party I went to was at my friend Rob’s house (not his real name, I’m still not sure if he knows what happened or not).
I got there early and was talking with friends when I realized I had to – and there’s no polite way to say this, but we’re all adults with bodies and have been there – take a big dump. But I was afraid of stinking up the joint or having classmates queued up down the hall, so I didn’t use the main bathroom. I knew, cleverly, that Rob’s parents had a bathroom in their master bedroom and went for that one.
I did my business, but when I went to flush, it didn’t. It went halfway down the pipe, then stopped and the water rose.
I looked for a plunger, but there wasn’t one. I knew there was one downstairs, but I did not at all want to have to walk past my new high school classmates with it in hand, an undeniable scepter of shame. I weighed my options.
Sometimes when a toilet clogs, you know you earned it. But sometimes you just haven’t pulled the lever confidently enough to establish dominance. Hoping that was the case, I pressed the button again with authority.
At this point in my life I didn’t realize a toilet *could* overflow; I assumed there was some kind of fail-safe mechanism. As the water began to rise towards the lip and reality hit home, everything went into slow motion.
My eyes lit onto a tupperware container used for storing makeup. I dumped it onto the ground and started frantically baling water from the toilet to the sink. Too little, too late; the water rose over the lip and spilled onto the floor like a public fountain built to commemorate my failure.
This is also probably the time to note Rob’s parents bathroom is the only one in the western hemisphere with shag carpeting. Possibly the only one in history outside Liberace’s mansion or Gaddaffi’s Libya.
Fortunately, the water was all “fresh” water from the pipes (“fresh” being a very relative term). Either way, by the time it stopped the carpeting was soaked. I found a 36-pack of toilet paper in the closet and used half of it, hand soap and a hair dryer to sponge-dry the carpet over the next 60-90 minutes.
After finishing the toilet was still clogged, because there is no justice in the world. I gritted my teeth and tried to sneak downstairs. My friends immediately saw me and asked me where I disappeared to. Dodging the question, I hurriedly got the plunger and hustled upstairs to a chorus of jeers from the now-packed party.
What I did next was not mention it to anyone for 16 years.
Posted by tobymuresianu on Feb 19, 2014 in Stories
I occasionally drive for Uber in Los Angeles. If you’re not familiar, it’s a service that allows people to use their cars as inexpensive cabs (also, ask me for a referral).
I posted the story of my weirdest ride on facebook and it got a good response, so thought I would share it here as well.
The request came around midnight on a Monday. I pulled up outside a bar and three people – a hipster girl, a black hipster, and a tough looking guy – piled in, blurting out that some people had stolen the tough guy’s phone. They were following it through an app and would give me cash on top of the fare to track them down.
I didn’t have much experience as a bounty hunter but it seemed interesting and I started the ride, before immediately thinking of the more practical questions associated with tracking down criminals.
Had they called the police? Yes, they’d been blown off and told they ˜could file a case in the morning”.
Had they tried negotiating? Yes, some guy with an accent answered their call, but then hung up and didn’t answer again.
Were these actual criminals who might have guns? They were vague on this question when we converged on the dot about a mile away.
The street was deserted except for a guy running with a duffel bag while wearing a beat-up letterman-style jacket and jeans. He happened to be black. A collective wave of nausea swept the car when we realized what was about to happen.
“I feel like this is kind of racist, but…” said the girl.
Awkward “Ums” and “Ahs” from the other two.
“Pull up” said Tough Guy, rolling down his window. I pulled up beside the running man and he stopped.
“Do you have my phone?” asked Tough Guy.
“What?” the running guy replied in a thick African accent.
“You have my iPhone.”
“I do not know what you are talking about! Why are you accusing me? Is it because I am black?”
Tough Guy started getting out of the car. The black hipster leaned out of the window and started saying “Not a black thing man. Not a black thing!” probably seven times.
The African guy got increasingly angry, going through his pockets.
“I do not have your phone, look! This is my phone, it is a blackberry. You want to search me? GO ahead!”
He took off his jacket and angrily shoved it at Tough Guy, who didn’t take it. He started to unzip his duffel but didn’t finish as they argued.
The hipster girl had mentioned earlier there was a button in the app that caused it to beep loudly when pressed.
“Press the noise button,” I told her. She pressed it. Nothing happened. She called the phone. Nothing happened.
“He doesn’t have it. Let’s go!” She yelled to Tough Guy. He was still glaring at the African guy. There was palpable tension in the air as everyone waited to see if they would fight.
“Let’s go!” She yelled again. Tough Guy didn’t react. I let the car roll forward. He got back in the car and I drove off.
“The dot’s moving!” the girl said. “It’s up here, on the right!”
I stopped a half mile or so ahead, at the entrance to a community college parking lot where the week beforehand there had been a shooting over a drug deal. I told them I wasn’t going in there. They started to insist, citing the fact that I’d be paid. I was weighing my expected Uber wages against the cost of a lawyer/ambulance when in my rear-view I noticed the African guy running towards us, with a new, muscle-bound guy. I peeled out.
They broke into discussion of various theories for what was going on when the girl said the dot was at a 7-11 up ahead; we agreed this would be the last stop. I pulled into the lot. They went through the store looking to see if they recognized anyone or trying to suss out whether people there knew anything. I watched the pantomime through the glass window as a strangers got irate and defensive.
Two cops pulled up for coffee and the girl explained the situation. “Nah, those apps only give you a perimeter.” one said. “We don’t track those things down, you need a detective. You can file a case in the morning. Or we’ll be around and if you can get them to make an exchange, call 911 and we’ll respond.”
The thieves were still not picking up the phone. The girl had me drive to one more place the dot moved to, a block away, a residential complex. I told them I was done and would drive them home. The dot started moving again. I don’t know why it never occurred to anyone that the app could just be a piece of garbage and completely inaccurate (it wasn’t the built-in Apple one).
I drove them home. They thanked me profusely but didn’t pay me extra. The final bill was like ~$27 for 35 minutes which I think is way less than Starsky or Hutch earned per hour, even adjusted for inflation.
I didn’t really think about it more until two days later I surmised from the rating system that they rated me 3 stars, below average.
If I ever see them again, *I* am going to steal their phone. And tie it to a pigeon.
Posted by tobymuresianu on Dec 22, 2013 in Politics
Phil Robertson’s comments were ignorant and his sermons were hateful. But causing his show to be cancelled does more harm than good. The best option would be for Robertson to go on TV with people from the groups he insulted – and have them actually explain their opinions. Here’s why.
(First, read the interview if you haven’t already. It’s very surprising how many people took the time to express their opinion online who have never read the original article. I think part of the reason we are so polarized is because we are getting our news from opinion pieces based on opinion pieces instead of reading the original story and drawing our own conclusions.)
Two things surprised me in the interview:
1. The original remarks about vaginas and anuses – which seem like moronic but typical shock jock stuff – are like the third most offensive thing in the article. The remarks implying black people were happier before civil rights and implying that Japanese and Muslims started wars because they didn’t believe in Christ are much worse. I think the fact they only “surfaced” a few days after the original furor points to how many people didn’t read the original piece.
2. The remarks are a small percentage of the article. Most of it, written from the perspective of the author, an NYC hipster type – portrays Phil in a positive light, mentioning his work helping quit drugs, adopting a biracial child and promoting adoption. Some conservatives have described the piece as a “hit job” but it isn’t, at all. On the other hand, it explains why some people like him so much. It also raises the questions of when we should be able to look past crazy religious and political beliefs when they don’t affect our relationship with someone, and whether it’s appropriate to treat him as a simple villain.
That said, the sermons that have come to light are more odious than anything that’s said in the article.
So, if he’s said awful things, why shouldn’t he be kicked off his show as a consequence?
First, it’s not a first amendment issue, legally speaking. I do think, though, that “free speech” is a cultural value that we have and is worth preserving. It’s somewhat ironic that for all the past worry about government censorship, we are now censoring ourselves – private party retaliation and outrage is the biggest impediment to speaking one’s beliefs. And while I think there’s a difference between expressing your every day beliefs and those that are hateful when you have a public role, the fact that his beliefs are not outside the norm for many people – in addition to being troubling on its face – makes reprisal seem more like censorship. Is it okay to suspend someone for repeating, when asked, a belief that a sizable portion of the US population believes?
But free speech aside, the larger reason he shouldn’t remain suspended is that no goals are accomplished by this, beyond a fleeting sense of justice being served. If the reason we don’t want public figures espousing hateful views is that they will spread, canceling the show and making him a martyr for his beliefs doesn’t stop it. Addressing the substance of his remarks is the best way to.
After all, the consequences of the show being cancelled (or suspending Phil indefinitely, which will lead to the show being cancelled) will be:
1) Right wingers will continue to feel persecuted, and that there is a double standard for liberal and conservative “free speech” in America. I don’t think Phil Robertson is the best example for this, but I do think there’s a grain of truth in other cases, with Alec Baldwin, Dan Savage and others getting passes right-wingers don’t get.
2) Duck Dynasty will be picked up by another network – it’s already had offers – and possibly become more conservative/political than before.
3) People who love Duck Dynasty – and there are a lot of them – will continue to be angry at the show they love being cancelled. It’s easy to write this off if you’re liberal, since liberals don’t watch or care about the show. But a lot of people really, really do. Imagine if Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad had said the same thing Phil did before its last season. Would liberals be as quick to write the show off? Or would they remember that there are all kinds of horrendous people in Hollywood – from Walt Disney to Jenny McCarthy to Tom Cruise – where people have largely looked the other way?
If the goal is to stop prejudice and hatred towards homosexuals and minorities, the best way isn’t to have them blamed for taking away something that people love. The best way is to show that they are regular, decent, reasonable people – to Duck Dynasty viewers, not so different from the Phil. It’s also important to address Phil’s idiotic opinions head on – for example, by mentioning that rather than black people “not singing the blues” before civil rights, they invented the blues. And that far from his assertions that Christian countries did not start wars, obscure historical events like World War 1, the American Civil War, the American Revolution, the Spanish-American War, and the Crusades all happened.
And no, I don’t think that Phil will repent and change his mind. But some viewers might change theirs – or at least harbor less antipathy towards liberals/gays/minorities if they understand their point of view, see them being willing to talk, and see Phil shaking hands with them.
Sure, it’s not perfect, and there are ways it could go wrong. But I think it’s the best option, and in any case it’s better to do the right thing and risk it being wrong than to not take the chance at all.
Posted by tobymuresianu on Oct 25, 2013 in Politics
For the record, as an engineer with (an unfortunate amount of) experience with delayed software projects:
Using a “tech surge” to fix the problems with HealthCare.gov is a terrible idea, and every time I read about them “shipping some of the best and brightest minds” to Washington to fix these problems I cringe.
The more significant reason it’s a terrible idea is that you can’t solve software problems by adding more people or money. This is most famously illustrated by tech industry gospel The Mythical Man Month – a book describing the phenomenon of how adding people to a delayed project makes it more delayed.
Basically, what ends up happening is that you pull programmers who are building the product off and have them “bring up to speed” people that have just been brought in. They spend time training them, and then fixing the problems that the new people create, rather than working on the actual delayed product. The more people you add, the more overhead, and the less efficiently the project goes.
That said – I’m sure the experts brought in to fix the problem are aware of this phenomenon – and hopefully will be able to work around it, or maybe it’s all a bunch of hoopla to buy the developers time. At the end of the day – this product is just a website. It should not take that long to build. Obviously there’s important back-end stuff happening, but apparently that’s been functioning okay as the state exchanges have been using it.
You’ll hear excuses like “tech projects are often delayed” and “many websites have glitches” or “the traffic was more than what was estimated.” These are all ridiculous. Yes, tech projects are often delayed and time costs poorly estimated. However, this project is cost $170 million. $170 million. For a website. A website. $170 million. And Sebelius told the Wall Street Journal that ideally they should have had five years to work on the website. If every website took five years and $170 million to develop, there would be like three of them. No, designing an enterprise-class website is not easy, but the truth his that thousands of enterprises do more complicated things every day and manage to pull it off. As did the 14 states that managed to build their exchanges correctly.
People are saying Sebilius should be fired. I don’t know how responsible she is personally or not. It’s so easy to point fingers and I don’t think you should fire people just for vengeance.
I can’t say what the particular causes are – people are citing things like late requirement changes, which are the bane of many a software engineer, but in a well managed project should be prevented from happening.
But at the end of the day people are responsible for this. Anyone who didn’t raise alarm bells at a $170 million price-tag for developing a website should be fired, twice if possible. Obama and Sebilius both should have been told, if they weren’t, about the current status and risk associated with the project before launch and given the chance to delay it; and if they weren’t, whoever was responsible for not telling them should be held responsible. People who are bad at their jobs should not be given the chance to do new ones. I want to say that CGI Federal should not get more government contracts, but regardless after this debacle I’m not sure government agencies will be lining up to get some of that sweet HealthCare.gov magic.
Anyway, just wanted to share some thoughts I had – I had a little time to kill while I was trying to buy health insurance.
Posted by tobymuresianu on Oct 18, 2013 in Politics
So the government shutdown is over, and it’s a relief that the two parties were able to finally come together and agree to do it again in three months. Or maybe not. Maybe they have finally learned that there are limits to what unyielding antagonism can accomplish in a democracy. Or maybe not. Sometimes I wonder if Obama’s alarm clock plays “I got you babe” like in Groundhog Day.
So much has been said about the shutdown and I don’t want to beat a dead horse. I’d just like to express two thoughts:
1. The Republican Party should be two parties. They essentially are (how often does part of one party use the name of a different party to describe itself?) as the two wings represent very different sets of values. It would be great if the debt ceiling debacle yielded a split.
As has been widely reported, one core problem Congress has built for itself is that many of the districts are safe – gerrymandered so that one party has a safe majority, and threats to the incumbent come from within their own party in the primary system, causing the extreme wing to have disproportionate influence. But the will to correct gerrymandered districts hasn’t come from the people in power who drew them that way.
If the Tea Party and Republican party were separate, it could make these existing districts competitive again by allowing moderate Republicans to draw votes from either side in a general election, rather than having to draw them only from one side of their party in a primary. This would benefit democracy in these areas and encourage participation amongst voters who aren’t Republican and currently have no real voice in choosing the representatives of their gerrymandered districts.
2. If no split happens, hopefully this is where the Tea Party jumps the shark (Nominations for the moment? Green Eggs and Ham?). I used to feel like I could at least somewhat where they were coming from from a libertarian perspective even if I didn’t agree with them. But they’re so myopic and melodramatic that their actions aren’t even in line with the values they bluster for days about not compromising.
They hate inefficient government and wasteful spending, so they shut the government down and supported continuing to pay the workers. They believe that the will of the people is being abridged, so they address it by having their small minority dictate the agenda for the vast majority of Americans who voted for non-Tea-Party candidates. Even their core belief in free markets is suspect. To borrow a tweet from Josh Barro: “A conservative is someone who believes all markets are efficient except the bond market.” While it’s a stretch to say conservatives, tea partiers vocally advocate a view that deifies markets and vilifies people in government who think they know better than markets. Yet US Government Bonds have been priced by markets as the safest investment you can make, indicating markets themselves don’t see reason to be concerned about government taking on the debt that Tea Partiers obsess over. So it’s fairly ironic that the Tea Party people in government resolve this conflict by deciding they know better than the markets.
Anyway, that’s all for now. Go back to enjoying your national monuments.